Save The Delaware, Seriously

UPDATE: The DRBC announced today that it will postpone the October 21 meeting date to vote on the new gas regulations. The meeting is now scheduled for November 21, 2011.

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ORIGINAL POST: The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) will vote on October 21, 2011 whether to open the “Special Protection Waters” of The Upper Delaware to industrial shale gas drilling. If new DRBC regulations are passed, the current moratorium on hydraulic fracturing will come to an end, and fracking will begin in earnest in the Delaware River watershed region.

Pennsylvania currently has about 4,000 hydro-fracked Marcellus shale gas wells. Drillers hold leases for as many as 80,000 wells to be fracked in the Upper Delaware watershed if the current moratorium is lifted. Wherever fracking is done, documented environmental damage and adverse human and animal health impacts have ensued. Water pollution. Air pollution. Noise pollution. Light pollution. Heavy truck traffic. Leaking tanker valves. Dusty, open train cars transporting the dried mud of drill cuttings… There are many reasons why the public needs to take a long, hard look at the full life-cycle of this fossil fuel extraction process before we allow our elected leaders to pass weak regulations, impose minimal taxes and de-fund a permit-happy Department of Environmental Protection. Pennsylvania needs to slow down before we sacrifice our fresh water supply to the another BP-style disaster, or even a Bradford County-esque one for that matter. At the very least, the DRBC ought to be testing the brakes, waiting for a comprehensive, peer-reviewed impact study.

Horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas was developed in 2004. In 2005, gas drillers were exempted from The Safe Drinking Water Act, thereby enabling them to use a proprietary variety of highly regulated toxic chemicals in their gas extraction efforts. Fracking itself dredges up naturally occurring toxins from deep underground, some of which like uranium and radium 226, are radioactive. The process requires many millions of gallons of fresh water, too, pulled from local aquifers. As much as 40% of that water is returned to the surface at high pressure in the form of toxic waste water flowback.

Don’t Frack With The Tap!

In Pennsylvania between 2008-2010, an incalculably large volume of flowback, rife with heavy metals, radioactive isotopes, Volatile Organic Compounds and carcinogens like Benzene and formaldehyde, was released into our rivers and streams. Though it’s not yet state law, gas drillers must now either truck their waste to another state, usually New York or Ohio; deposit it in a state-licensed deep injection well, though these are pretty much full; or recycle it at one of several new, unregulated waste treatment facilities. Many drillers are opting to recycle their toxic waste water onsite for use in future fracks. Flowback is generally stored in open, double lined pools which evaporate toxins into the air.

One major problem with fracking is that removing heavy metals and radiation from waste water is extremely tricky business, yet “recycled” frack waste is regularly redeposited into waterways, upstream from municipal water treatment plants and innumerable private water wells. What’s more, naturally occurring pollutants in water, such as methane, become far more toxic when combined with chemicals like chlorine, which is commonly used in water treatment facilities. Current state regulation and enforcement of waste water discharges is alarmingly sketchy. If the Delaware Basin is opened to drilling, there will be no way to know to what new chemicals will be present in our tap water, and to what long-term concentrations we’ll be exposed.

Fracking has already fractured communities from Colorado to Texas, Wyoming to Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York. The issue is also being widely debated around world in places where shale gas is found: France, England, Ireland, Poland, Australia and New Zealand. All eyes are on Pennsylvania right now, however, as we set a shaky, and frankly kinda dubious, new legislative course.

Elected officials need to hear from concerned citizens today. If you think fresh water is sacred, and you want our watershed to have stronger, not weakened, protections, please take the time to take action. Tell the DRBC to listen to the 10,000 citizens who have already written letters of protest. Tell them, Don’t Frack With The Tap!

DelawareRiverkeepers has named October 21st Don’t Drill the Delaware Day. Join them in protecting the naturally flowing, high-value, heritage waters of The Delaware River, there’s plenty of ways you can help:

  • Join in Peaceful Protest with a broad-based coalition of Water Activists and riverfolk in Trenton, NJ on October 21st at 8am

As ever, thank you for taking action on this urgent, vital issue!

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